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SPCA Says “Significant Precedent” Set

19 April 2005

Court Case Affirms Duty Of Care To Animals

SPCA Says “Significant Precedent” Set By Cattle In Flood Judgment

The Royal New Zealand SPCA believes that an important legal principle has been affirmed in the case of cattle forced to swim for their lives in a Northland flood.

Last Friday, the Kaikohe District Court fined the cattle’s owners $4,000, after finding them guilty of breaching Section 10 of the 1999 Animal Welfare Act. The court also awarded $1,915 to the SPCA for expenses involved in prosecuting the case.

The court found that Bruce Riddell Jonson and Jan Dorothy Jonson had failed to move the cattle to safer pastures before the flood occurred, despite the event being “entirely foreseeable” and despite the fact that neighbouring farmers moved their stock.

Section 10 of the Animal Welfare Act requires owners and those in charge of animals to ensure that their physical health and behavioural needs are met in a manner that accords with good practice and scientific knowledge.

“The judgement affirms the duty of care that humans have towards animals, whether they be farm stock, domestic animals or any other living creatures over whom they exercise ownership or control. This is a key principle of the Animal Welfare Act,” says Robyn McDonald, National Chief Executive of the Royal New Zealand SPCA.

“The Jonson case was not one of deliberate cruelty but of carelessness and of a failure to act responsibly on the part of members of the farming community. The court has set a significant precedent concerning the treatment of such cases, by imposing a reasonably heavy fine on the accused, in accordance with the sentencing provisions of the Animal Welfare Act.

“Our legal system is based on the idea of precedent. We therefore hope that other similar cases will now be dealt with in a comparably serious manner. In recent months, judges have certainly taken a more rigorous approach to sentencing in cases brought under the Animal Welfare Act. However, that pattern is still far from uniform,” she says.

Robyn McDonald adds that there is no justification for claims by a Northland Federated Farmers spokesperson that the SPCA, is an ”urban-based” organisation and that the accused in the Jonson case suffered from “a widening gulf of understanding” between urban and rural people.

“The SPCA is active throughout New Zealand and its attitudes reflect those of the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders. Inspectors involved in rural prosecutions are normally themselves residents of country areas, as was certainly so in this latest case. The complainants in this matter were five farmers who made complaints directly to the SPCA.”

“All the SPCA asks of the courts is for the provisions and intentions of our animal welfare legislation to be upheld in convicting and sentencing offenders. The integrity of our justice system demands that there be one law for all, in matters of this sort,” she says.


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